There's more to writing
Reflection on meeting an author
November 24, 2003
Every time I meet a celebrity, the thrill is overwhelming.
But nothing can match what I feel when meeting an accomplished
writer. I had such an experience last week.
I heard that Shahrnush Parsipur had moved to
Rhode Island to lecture at Brown University. I knew about her,
but not nearly
enough. Many years ago, when access to Persian literature used
to be more difficult, I had bought a couple of her books. Through
the years the storylines faded from my memory and I neglected
to put her name on my "to read" list. Now my trip
to Providence--to visit my daughter--could provide a chance
her. "After all," I thought, "there are not
too many Iranians there, and she may enjoy seeing another fellow
When I asked my daughter, she said, "Sure,
Mom. She sounds really cool and I, too, have wanted to meet
her. Her one translated
book--which I have read--is one of my all time favorites."
I took the old Parsipur books down from the shelf
to be dusted and reviewed. I looked her up and extended an invitation.
all went well. We would meet a few days after my arrival. She
was gracious enough to agree to join us for dinner after her
long day of work.
I bought a copy of her translated book "Women
Without Men" and
began reading just to realize I could not put it down. A feminist
advocate and a skillful writer, her interwoven tales of five
women took me in. Her unique surrealist style creates characters
that only Salvador Dali could paint and her fluent writing-translated
by Kamran Talatoff- gives five Persian women a voice to represent
many others, thus providing a universal theme.
It had been
years since I enjoyed a book as much as this. Pain, told
with her unique
touch of humor, provides an angle to the stories of women
in Iran, and indeed around the world; a subject close to the
Here I was, having semi-educated myself on Parsipurism
while getting ready for the big meeting with a prominent writer.
"What should I wear?" I asked my daughter.
"Mom, I don't think she cares!" was her response.
"Oh, but I am a Persian woman. It's important to make a good first
We both made sure we took a copy of her book
with us to be autographed.
At last the evening comes and I meet
a prominent writer: Shahrnush Parsipur. An activist whose life
has been dedicated to women's
rights, freedom of expression, research, teaching and, yes,
writing stands before me. She is dressed casually in a T-shirt
suit, wears no makeup and brushes her short hair back with
her fingers. She appreciates our hospitality while it is obvious
she does not care for the fancy restaurant and misses the Greek
café she knows. She is humble, yet accommodating and,
if she could, she would have loved to stop me from feeling
I see the pain of past experiences in her eyes,
yet she is fun to be around. She is tired from her long day,
extend the evening in order to chat with my daughter and provide
her with a list of translated works of Persian literature.
She signs our copies of her book while adding a kind remark.
I know it the evening is over and I must say goodbye to someone
whose modesty would have let me pass her by on the street without
a second glance. I felt priviledged to know her.
Before saying goodbye I told her, "It is so true when
we say in Persian 'A tree bows when weighted down with an abundance
of fruit'. I can not believe how down-to-earth you are!"
"Selling a few books doesn't make me bigger than you."
"You are too modest."
"No, I'm actually dead against modesty. Modesty
is why the world knows nothing about Persian arts."
I had been conscious of how she knew so much more than I ever
would. It was good to for once find her
wrong and realize that I knew something she did not:
Her books do make
her bigger than most and her art--despite the modesty--will
not be un-known to the world.
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